Thousands gathered at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney to pay tribute to a man they loved for his vision and “big heart” a year after his death in Rome.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, the principal celebrant at the memorial Mass for Cardinal George Pell, said that no Australian has done more for the church worldwide.
The archbishop concelebrated the Solemn Pontifical Requiem Mass on the first anniversary of the cardinal’s entrance to eternal life on 10 January with Tasmania Archbishop Julian Porteous, Sydney Bishop Terence Brady, vicar general Fr Gerry Gleeson and dozens of priests from Sydney and beyond.
Present were relatives, friends and colleagues of the cardinal, with others following the early evening Mass via livestream.
A diverse congregation filled the cathedral, including many young families, university students, professionals, religious brothers and sisters, seminarians and clergy.
In a touching moment at the end of the Mass, the entire congregation followed the closing procession to the crypt below to pause for a moment or remain for short prayers led by Archbishop Fisher at the cardinal’s tomb.
Cardinal Pell was a companion of the Order of Australia, prefect emeritus of the Vatican’s Secretariat to the Economy and former Archbishop of Sydney.
In his homily Archbishop Fisher recalled Pope Francis’ recent praise of the cardinal, in which he mentioned the “zeal, conviction, determination and vison” of “our much-mourned brother George.”
“He said the cardinal understood what was needed regarding Vatican financial reforms,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Fisher also praised Cardinal Pell’s “unwavering commitment to the truth and consistent willing of the good” and promotion of morality and religion in a world immersed in secularism and relativism.
This won him “many friends and not a few enemies.”
The archbishop borrowed from sporting parlance to describe the cardinal as a ‘unicorn’ in the field of faith, “someone who had imagination, focus and energy to attend to all the goods of human flourishing, more or less all the time.”
Unafraid to proclaim the truth, the cardinal was a passionate advocate of Catholic education and health institutions, and a defender of marriage and of life, including the most vulnerable, indigenous, ex-prisoners and the poor, he said.
The archbishop described a man who was also deeply loyal to his family and friends, Pope Benedict XVI among them who had praised the cardinal’s “big heart.”
Outlining his many achievements, he said World Youth Day 2008, “the biggest festival in the history of our nation [was] his most daring project.”
“But in keeping the rudder of the church in Australia fixed upon the apostolic tradition, he did more than anyone to save it from becoming the sort of confused and dying institution that it has become in some places,” Archbishop Fisher said.
Following his unanimous exoneration by Australia’s High Court for crimes he did not commit, he continued to be demonised by some, with some later seeking to disrupt his funeral, the archbishop recalled.
Rather than becoming embittered by his troubles, the cardinal emerged “if anything, gentler and more forgiving.”
At the conclusion of the Mass the archbishop noted that the cardinal and Sydney’s Servant of God Eileen O’Connor share the same anniversary of death and birth into eternal life.
“If George is with her now, as we hope, they will look like an amusing pair,” he said.
“Eileen was only three foot, 9 inches tall and George was six foot, four—but they both worked to build up the church in Sydney and beyond.”
Meadowbank parishioner Suzy Curro said she and her young daughter wanted to pray for the cardinal as they were inspired by his love for Jesus Christ and the church.
“We also admired his position on standing up for the teachings of our faith,” she said.
“He never shied away from speaking the truth and defending it.
“We will forever be grateful for the witness he left for the following generations to come.”
A friend of the cardinal, Sarah Edwards, said her family, like many others, experienced his kindness, solicitude and humour.
“As Archbishop Fisher said in his homily, he had a gift for friendship,” she said.
“He loved family life and he always made time for us no matter how busy he was.”
University of Sydney student Chris Tannous said he admired Cardinal Pell and was grateful for the spiritual, intellectual and emotional formation he gained thanks to the cardinal’s work in supporting Catholic university chaplaincies.